The show goes on: Organizing a theatre festival during the global pandemic

How young people moved Serbia’s Festival of International Student Theatre online

Jovana Jankov
Jovana Jankov
UNICEF
13 May 2020

About the author

Jovana Jankov, age 23 is from Pančevo, Serbia.  She studies Theatre, Radio and Culture Management and Production at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the University of Arts in Belgrade. Jovana is a member of numerous organizations, and volunteers at events and festivals in Pančevo and beyond. Jovana is interested in media education and cultural studies. Her favourite hobbies are stargazing and doing crafts and she is a passionate about advocating for access to non-formal youth education.

 

 

Lately, the media and social networks have been buzzing with news, articles, statuses, comments, tweets, memes, GIFs about the current situation and coronavirus. The surprise factor about this situation seems to no longer exist.

I hope we have moved past and adopted the information from articles explaining how to wash our hands and how to protect ourselves from the virus. If you are still not well-informed about the protection measures, I recommend finding information from various, reliable sources on the internet. And the most important thing is to actually follow the advice.

When we came to terms with the fact that it was best to go into self-quarantine, the next question was “What now?” As distance learning systems are being set up because schools are closed, and as teachers are quickly learning about the things we are growing up with, many are also wondering how to spend time at home. That's why you can find various tips, suggestions and recommendations online. What to read? Which TV shows to watch? What new thing to learn? Do whatever you usually do in spare time or at home. Only now it seems that the circumstances are the same for everyone, at the same time, because we want to be considerate, solidary and responsible both to ourselves and to others.

Jovana Jankov
Jovana Jankov

Many festivals, libraries, museums and various platforms have offered their content for free. Such opportunities are great, but in general there is plenty of content available, you just have to find it. We need nothing more than internet connection and a little curiosity.

The most notable suggestions these days on the internet are free courses offered by prestigious universities, virtual tours of world's museums and even the National Museum's exhibition of sculptures. In addition to the platforms we normally use to watch films and series, it's great that we can watch for free over 300 documentaries or short films (a selection that will help raise money to help with the COVID-19 crisis). Many websites for downloading books in PDF format, watching stage plays and listening to concerts are now available. Various podcasts and video contents are also good entertainment.

An example that I hold dear and that is important to me, and that I would like to share with you is the FIST festival, which we organized in the midst of the global crisis and social panic.

Every year, final-year students of Management and production in theatre, radio and culture at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts organize the Festival of International Student Theatre – FIST. We were preparing FIST for over a year and originally it was supposed to gather 11 academies from Europe in different Belgrade theatres. Because of all the recent social events, we had a great dilemma of how to approach the situation, but also how not to give up.

Fist Festival
Fist Festival

We designed the concept and message of this year’s festival, wanting to respond to the current events responsibly and rationally – not only because the festival brings together young people, but also because it teaches future theatre and performing arts professionals and artists to create based on the community values. We decided to organize the festival online and make it accessible to everyone, so all activities were moved to the internet.

“In the beginning, it was not easy to accept that we would have to say goodbye to something we had all worked on for over a year, or to reconcile the opinions of more than twenty people. But we all felt the need to respond in some way, to do what we can, and not to allow ourselves to give up”, said Tijana Micanovic, fourth-year student who had the role of the director of children's programme of the festival – the FISTić (Little FIST). “The entire situation made us redefine our organizational structure and adapt it to the new requirements. The situation was changing by the day, by the hour. What motivated us the most to continue was our support for each other, as well as the trust of our mentor. We are all united in the opinion that this is not the time to give up, but the time in which we will do our humane and artistic duty and act with responsibility and awareness. That was the birth of the FIST Society – an online community that will connect people globally and offer them festival content on our online platforms, spreading the values of responsibility, solidarity and unity, but also the message that there is no greater crisis than a world without art”, concludes Tijana.

So, this year we had the chance to watch plays on FIST's YouTube channel. We could visit an exhibition and watch a documentary film about the festival and then listen to three panel discussions about the role of art in moments of crisis and about the future of theatre in the digital environment.

We didn’t give up, we adapted. In these circumstances, intercultural exchange, learning and support should not be interrupted, but should continue in a new form. We should not forget to show our solidarity and use the internet for cultural and educational contents – that is how we can ensure the awakening we want and encourage networking in challenging times, but also long after this whole situation is over.